Public called to contribute to NZ Science Challenges list

By Grant Jacobs 08/10/2012

Released today is a call to enlist contributions to “identify the key scientific questions New Zealand needs to answer as part of developing the new $60 million National Science Challenges”. This call for submission is to start in November 2012.

The full press release is available on the Beehive[1] website. It goes on to say,

“As part of our engagement with the public, next month we will be launching a television and online advertising campaign inviting Kiwis to tell us what they believe New Zealand’s Science Challenges should be.

“Through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment the Government will also be engaging directly with the broader science sector, research institutions, tertiary institutions and schools to get their feedback.

“This wide public discussion will help us identify the challenges, and at the same time increase the profile of science with the public and those considering a science career.”

They aim to draw the key topic in the first quarter of 2013, with Cabinet selecting from what is presented by a panel chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman. The science sector is, apparently, to be approached directly by MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment).

A television campaign is to be part of the program to call for submissions. Part of the aims for including calls from the public is to encourage greater engagement with science.

I emphasised Cabinet earlier. You might think that Cabinet are to essentially ‘rubber stamp’ was is recommended by the science advisory panel, but I note that the wording offered in the press release has them choosing from what is offered by the panel, a point re-enforced in the FAQ following the press release.[2]

Further details are available on the press release, particularly the FAQ on the latter part of that page, the National Science Challenges website and the National Science Challenges Cabinet paper[3] (PDF file). An on-line form has been set up so that people may register their interest.


1. For those from overseas, the New Zealand parliament building resembles a  beehive, hence the well-known nickname, used here on an official government web service. (Resembling one you might see in an illustration in Whinny-the-Pooh.)

2. I’m not trying to make a meal of this, but noting a nuance in the plans.

3. Strangely this still has ‘in confidence’ at the top of the document. (Don’t you love New Zealand parliament’s clumsy goofs?)

Other articles on Code for life:

Survey – communicating earthquake-related science

Career paths, redux – the academic research career is the exception

Putting government policy on trial

Living photographs

On vetting TED(x) events – a suggestion

0 Responses to “Public called to contribute to NZ Science Challenges list”

  • $64,000 question: will the ‘general public’ have anything useful to contribute to this?

  • The nuance is well-noted. Particularly given Steven Joyce’s role.
    What’s the bet “Science Challenges” that are resource extraction in drag are favoured. And that “Science Challenges” based on climate change, emissions reductions, and improving the NZETS will be ignored.

  • Given it’s “another” ‘strategy’ effort individual voices might not have much say – ?

    As for useful, perhaps suggestion want to be split into what is perceived to be needed/wanted and what evidence suggests needs attending to. You would hope that the Cabinet’s choices are directed by substance rather than just perception, which all the flaws that the latter can have. (Being filtered through a science panel should help.)

  • I presume this is an exercise to define what the ‘Advanced Technology Institute’ (now to be known as ‘Callaghan Innovation’) is supposed to do. ‘CI’ I guess is supposed to be a CSIRO-like entity following a set of topics almost identical to those identified in Australia. In fact if you look at the Australian CSIRO ‘Flagships’ you can do an almost one-to-one mapping with the topics presented in ‘The Great Science Project’, eg:

    Biosecurity = Protecting New Zealand’s Biodiversity
    Preventative Health = Fighting Disease
    Food Futures = Food for Health
    Future Manufacturing = Advanced Materials and Manufacturing
    Wealth from Oceans = Our Rich Seas
    Climate Adaptation = Our Changing Climate
    Sustainable Agriculture = Land and Water

    Australia has two extra ones which aren’t applicable to NZ (Minerals and Water for a Healthy Country, though part of the second is probably encompassed in ‘Land and Water’) and NZ has the extra one of ‘Resilience to Natural Hazards’ which doesn’t apply to Australia. However, overall, doesn’t look like a lot of original thinking when into these topics, which I think is a real pity because it’s simply not clear to me that the challenges of Australia are really the same as those for NZ. NZ certainly has challenges beyond those of Australia (I say this as an Australian living in NZ).

    Also, consulting the public might not lead to much real insight into the science challenges of NZ. Ideas like ‘more walkways’ and ‘cleaning up local streams’ which have been submitted and are very popular may well be worthy goals, but they aren’t science challenges. So, even if there are some good ideas in the mix, the signal-to-noise looks like it will be very low. As for the popularity contest of ‘voting’ for the Australian-inspired challenges, well, again, not sure that will lead to any real insight from the public. As you said, what is perceived to be needed or wanted, or in this case just popular, isn’t the same actually addressing areas of concern.

  • Hi Melanie,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. (Now your first comment has been approved, you can comment at will – welcome to Code for life!)

    You wrote: “I presume this is an exercise to define what the ‘Advanced Technology Institute’ (now to be known as ‘Callaghan Innovation’) is supposed to do. ‘CI’ I guess […]”

    I had a little laugh at you using CI. The announcement of the name said it was partly chosen for being unlikely to be abbreviated. Even before I’d read that, I automatically thought ‘CI’ – and also that for me it conflicts with Cochlear Implant.

    I haven’t seen any clear explanation of how the Challenges are to be implemented. There’s $NZ60M that is to be spent over 4 years. There is no mention of a particular institute, but there is mention of a wide range of areas, so I’m presuming it’s intended to be distributed. There is also mention of ‘mission-led science priorities’. That, with the cabinet having the final say, twitches my nose at little. (Cynic that I am!) I can’t help wondering if this is government-speak for science “we” (as in the government) want done. There is clearly will be some notice of public interests. (A bigger cynic than me might say at least some play at notice!)

    Thanks for pointing out the match-up with the Australian counterpart – it’s interesting how similar they are.

    I’m increasingly thinking that the initiative may be a bit hastily thought-out for my liking (but then I tend to be critical) and will not really create ‘challenges’—which I see as narrower, more focused and directed actions—but instead looks in danger of focusing on over-arching ‘buckets’. That said, we should give it a chance since this horse has already started running (galloping, trotting, whatever).

  • Hi Grant,

    I actually think ‘Callaghan Innovation’ is a very weird grammatical construct and find it irritating as my brain just wants to add an extra word like institute or organisation to the end. ‘Innovation’ is far too abstract a concept to describe what this is eg an institute/organisation. I find the name so grammatically ‘wrong’ that I *want* to abbreviate it. Paul was someone who always had excellent grammar, I wonder what he would have thought?

    Anyway, I suspect you are right on the over-arching ‘buckets’, but as you say, I guess we will have to wait and see what happens.

  • Hi Grant, Melanie,

    The cabinet paper on the National Science Challenges can be found here:

    Paragraph 19 of this document states:
    “The National Science Challenges build on the approach used for the Australian National Research Priorities and the Australian Flagship programmes, governed and managed by the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, Australia’s main science provider). …….. MBIE would manage the investments to National Science Challenges from Vote Science and Innovation, while other agencies may take the lead as appropriate on some Challenges. MBIE may devolve management to science providers through collaborative platforms.”

    So they ARE explicitly modelled on the CSIRO Flagships, and they’re NOT explicitly aimed at Callaghan innovation – which makes sense given that only 2 out of 8 of the ‘example” challenges would fit within CI’s stated mission anyway…

    I was at a workshop held by MBIE this week on the NSC. When it comes to scope, purpose and implementation of the challenges, it would be a fair summary to say that at present, confusion still reigns (including within the ministry). However, it also appears clear that the NSC will shape the future direction of all MBIE science investment, through informing the development of (another) new set of science investment priorities, as well as appropriating funding from existing portfolios as it comes off contract. It is certainly a much more extensive exercise than might be suggested by the headline price tag of $15 million pa. (This equates to only ~2% of the annual Vote S&I budget).

  • Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the link, very interesting and good to know these aren’t specifically aimed at CI (can’t not abbreviate it). If the NSC is going to shape the future of all MBIE science investment then I am even more concerned about the scope. It’s already pretty hard to see much future for lots of pure basic research in NZ due to the extreme focus on these type of ‘flagship-like’ topics. Ironically, lots of the innovation that leads to economic development and/or social development comes not from targeted areas but from curiosity-driven, pure basic research cf John O’Sullivan and the invention of wifi. Maybe that’s the biggest science challenge for NZ, to convince MBIE of the value of breadth in research?

  • I went to this site (and registered) wanted to have my say yet despite all the talk I could not submit an idea. Which was for science to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and become energy independent. It has become obvious to me that this is not a goal. It is a sham woops I mean shame.

  • For those looking to submit ideas: register then from the main page click on ‘Your ideas’ (bottom-right). On the page that opens you’ll see a link to the FaceBook page that you can enter ideas into.

    (I’m a bit grumpy about some aspects of how this has been set up, but perhaps fortunately for readers I have other things I have to get onto that spare you from hearing about it! Yet.)

  • Derek,

    I registered and tried to make comments on some of the ideas but they have never appeared. So I think there are clearly some problems with the website admin. As Grant said, trie facebook instead.

  • I recall someone saying that the approval of comments (and by extension submission of ideas) is slow on their website. It may be just that – ? (i.e. give it a day or two, perhaps?)

    • A reader has alerted me that a copy of the speech by Sue Suckling, the Chair of Callaghan Innovation Establishment Board, is available on-line. (There’s also a PDF.) It covers some of the routes to the name and what the institute is to stand for.

      Clearly this bit isn’t working around here!:

      ‘The presentation of the name has been deliberately designed to resist abbreviation and the dreaded disease of acronym-itis.’

      (See also the opinion piece in previous comment for other’s thoughts on the role of the institute.)

  • “The third pathway was reviewing the names of around 50 of the most influential global organisations associated with the commercial implementation and value-add from science, engineering and technology. Some were historical, some contemporary: Xerox Parc, Cedars Sinai, the Salk Institute, Cavendish Laboratory, Google Labs, John Hopkins, MIT Media Lab, Rockefeller Foundation, the Manhattan Project, the MacArthur Prize…”

    Hold on let’s look at these:
    1) Xerox Parc – putting aside it isn’t called that anymore, It should be Xerox PARC – as in Palo Alto Research Center. So, has the noun center…

    2) Cedars Sinai – that would be Cedars Sinai Medical Center. So big tick there for a suitable noun…

    3) the Salk Institute – yep, institute is a suitable noun…

    4) Cavendish Laboratory – Lab, yes that will do…

    5) Google Labs – lab, tick…

    6) , John Hopkins – Um… that would be *Johns* Hopkins University, or *Johns* Hopkins Medicine if you want the company or JHU. Can’t even get the name right, but anyway has a suitable noun…

    7) MIT Media Lab – lab, tick…

    8) Rockefeller Foundation – foundation, yes that’s a suitable noun.

    9) the Manhattan Project – project, not quite the same but still a suitable noun…

    So let’s play “one of these things is not like the other” with these:

    centre, lab, university, institute, foundation, innovation

    I think it’s pretty obvious which one is the odd one out.

    Seriously, their naming arguments just don’t stack up. The great research and innovations centres of the world still have grammatically correct names (what a shock). I think Paul Callaghan would have liked the honour, but really would have wanted a name that made some grammatical sense.